The Power of Online Reviews

ReviewsThe news this week of a couple that was reportedly fined £100 for leaving a bad review of a hotel on Tripadvisor follows the banning of a lady from a country pub because she also left a bad review and the ASA investigation into fake reviews on the travel website.

However, it seem that not only companies which have offer bad service should be afraid of negative customer reviews, but also those that don’t. The issue is that now that customers simply demand reviews, not only of companies in general but also individual products.

Today you and your company cannot only be reviewed by niche websites such as Tripadvisor but also by forums, blogs and other services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram … And this offers a new threat to your bottom line.

Just today I’ve swapped a supplier for a security system given negative reviews for one company and positive reviews for another. That order would have run over thousands of pounds over the lifetime of the product. The important thing is that we’ve all probably decided not to buy a product given the customer reviews on a retailer’s own website, be it Amazon, Toys R Us or elsewhere. In aggregate, the impact of reviews runs into the loss of many millions for some companies and similar gains for others.

In reality we shouldn’t be afraid of customer reviews on our own websites. If we retail a product that isn’t fit for purpose surely it is better that you don’t allow future customers to be disappointed and learn from the experience by selecting products that better meet customers’ needs?

If in those comments customers frequently request a certain feature then wouldn’t it be wise to source a suitable product? If you collate data and research it in a macro format then you can highlight trends and isolate suppliers that consistently underperform.

There has been a report by Havas Worldwide that 38% of people say a solitary negative review would put them off buying a particular product. The same report also shows that non-branded blogs have affected the buying decisions of particular types of consumers.

But we should reflect on the bigger picture: customers expect online retailers to provide reviews. Allowing customers to engage with you after the sale has been made and provide feedback to you and others has become the ‘norm’.

If your systems don’t automatically email customers to provide either feedback on the particular company or a 3rd party review of your service in general then you are missing a trick. These systems are not difficult to implement, and often can be integrated in minutes by installing an app on various shopping cart services.

However, it doesn’t stop there. As online retailers compete with each other for visibility within the search engines, being able to have your product ratings embedded into Google will allow your products stand out from the crowd. And who knows, these sorts of reviews, especially 3rd party, independent reviews may actually affect the organic results – directly, or indirectly.

You can go even further and expand the concept of reviews. Some customers may not be in a position to verbally express their appreciation of a product, but a social share can. A simple Facebook like may not drive noticeable levels of sales, but aggregated over a number of customers it is a proxy signal of appreciation – whether they have purchased or not. Make it easy for people to share your content (you’ve probably been told this a million times.

Following this through to its logical conclusion you can also garner ‘reviews’ for not only your brand, in a lazy “I love this company” kind of way, or products in particular, but also your brand ethos. Creating content that communicates you’re the objectives and sympathies of your company is absolutely vital in breaking through the traditional (AdWords is now traditional) marketing noise. Resonating with your customers and showing that you ‘understand their world view’ is absolutely vital in many industries – especially when you do not have large marketing budgets to play with. There is NO substitute for passion.